Yummy Yogurt

Praised for its health giving qualities, yogurt has earned a reputation as one of the most valuable health foods.

For centuries, yogurt is regarded as wholesome food in the diet of many nations like Turkey, Russia and India. In India, yogurt is one of the most important foods. No meal is complete without yogurt in some form or the other. An assortment of dishes are made with yogurt. Approximately 50% of total milk is converted into yogurt.

Yogurt is rich in calcium, phosphorus and B vitamins. Although it has similar nutritive properties like milk, it has the added advantage of being easily digestable. Yogurt is usually recommended for people with sensitive digestive systems. The bacteria in yogurt stimulate the friendly bacteria in the intestine and suppress the harmful bacteria. My grandma who was a doctor insisted that we eat more yogurt when we had to take antibiotics for some reason or another.

It is believed that the first yogurt was made in Turkey. Legend has it that a nomad while travelling through the desert kept some milk in a goat skinned bag and hung it across the back of his camel. On opening the bag a few hours later, he found the milk had turned into tangy custard. The desert sun and the bacteria inside the bag had produced the required conditions for yogurt preparation.

As a child, I remember seeing my mother make yogurt every night. She would heat the milk and then dip her finger to gauge the temperature and add a spoon full of yogurt. Then she would whisk it, cover it and keep aside for the night. In the morning the yogurt would be set and she would then keep it in the fridge. In fact she made it so effortlessly that I did not bother to learn the process of yogurt making.

As years rolled by, when I came to US, I decided to make yogurt too. After all, I had seen it being prepared so many times. I was quite confident about making yogurt. It was a big blow to my ego when the yogurt just refused to set. Sometimes it became so stringy that I wondered if I had dropped in some okra in it!

After a week of yogurt making fiascoes, I called my mother and asked her the right temperature for adding yogurt to milk. She was amused by all the fuss I was creating about yogurt making. She laughed and said you should feel uncomfortable with the heat of milk when you dip your finger in to gauge the temperature. That was easier said than done because I have low tolerance for heat. So I gave up on making yogurt myself and resorted to buying it from the store. I blamed the fiasco on the weather and the type of milk we get in this country.

Ten years ago, when we moved to a new neighborhood, there was an Indian family on our block. The grandparents, (Ajoba and Ajji as my children called them) had emigrated from India and adapted their cooking to the American kitchen since 1980. Eighty-five years old Ajoba is a self made cook, takes a very scientific approach to cooking and everything that Ajji cooked. He felt one should have success in cooking every time and eliminate the guesswork out of it. Ajoba and Ajji enthusiastically shared their foolproof way to make yogurt at home with some handy gadgets.

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Making yogurt at home

Heat 6 cups milk (1 percent or 2 percent or whole) in the microwave oven for about 10 minutes till it starts to boil over. Remove it from the microwave and keep it aside to cool for 10-15 minutes. Take a meat thermometer (which is available in all grocery stores) and check the temperature. Wait for the temperature to reach 130 degrees (which is the lowest setting on the meat thermometer), add two tablespoons of yogurt. Whisk it with an eggbeater and cover it with a plastic wrap. Place this bowl in an oven with the oven light on. Keep it undisturbed overnight and the next morning you will have yogurt, firm enough to slice.

Ajoba's hints:

This technique works for 6 cups. For less quantity of milk, the temperature at whichyou add yogurt culture, should be a couple of degrees higher.

Hema's Hints:

Alternative to keeping the bowl in the oven, wrap the yogurt bowl in a bed sheet and keep it on the countertop to set.

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Yocheese Spread

This delicious spread has all the goodness of yogurt and is a low calory substitute for cream cheese.

4 cups yogurt
1 green onions
2-3 green chilies
4-6 black pepper
Salt as per taste

Take a stack of newspaper and lay couple of paper towels on it to cover the newspaper.

Pour the yogurt on it and keep aside for 2 hours.The water or whey drains out of the yogurt. Remove the thick yogurt and keep it in a bowl. After the whey or water has drained away from the yogurt, it becomes thick and creamy like cheese.

Chop green onion and green chilies as fine as possible and add to yogurt. Coarsely crush the black pepper and add it along with salt to the yogurt mix.
Mix thoroughly. Serve it with bagels.

Hema's hints

1.For variety you can add a teaspoon of finely chopped cilantro or mint to the mix.

2.It can also be tangy and spicy dip for strips of pita bread or freshly chopped vegetables.

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Yogurt Rice Salad

1 cup basmati rice
3 cups yogurt
1 cucumber peeled and chopped
1 white onion peeled and chopped
1 granny smith apple peeled and chopped
1 zucchini peeled and chopped
½ teaspoon ginger paste
1 carrot peeled and grated for garnish
1 teaspoon oil
1 red chili ( broken into pieces)
4-5 whole black pepper (very coarsely ground )
salt to taste

Wash and drain the rice . Boil 3 cups of water and add the washed rice to it.
Cook it on high heat for 5 minutes without any cover. Lower the heat and cover the pot with atight fitting lid for 10 minutes. Finally turn off the heat but do not remove the lid for next 5 minutes..The steam finishes off the process of cooking rice.

Use a potato masher to coarsely break the texture of the rice when it is still hot. Let it cool completely. Whisk the yogurt with a eggbeater and add it to the rice along with cucumber, onions, apple, zucchini and ginger paste.

In a small pan, heat the oil and add red chili. Wait till it changes color and add whole black pepper. Remove from heat and pour it over the rice mixture.
Add salt and mix the ingredients well. Finally add grated carrots as a garnish and serve chilled or at room temperature.

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Refreshing summer soup

2 English cucumber
2 Tablespoon mint leaves
3 Teacups plain yogurt
Salt to taste

Blend all the ingredients in a blender and serve with ice cubes.

For a fancy presentation place one mint leaf in each cubicle of the ice tray. Boil water and let it cool completely before adding it to the ice tray.

To serve add the soup in a bowl and place the mint-ice-cubes in it.

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Salad with Yogurt dressing

2 tomatoes, diced
2 cucumbers, diced
1 cup yogurt
1 tablespoon peanuts ( unsalted)
1 green chili, grated
½ teaspoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt ( or as per taste)
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

In a bowl place chopped tomatoes and cucumber.

In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt with a fork to a smooth texture. Crush peanuts in a mortar and pestle (or use a rolling pin). Add peanuts, sugar, salt, and grated chili to yogurt mix. Pour this sauce over the chopped vegetables.